28 January 2014

How to manage change

While businesses have to regularly adapt, there may be times when you need to manage major changes. How do you guide your company through this?

As a business owner or manager you are probably used to having to make some adaptations to keep your business competitive. But there may be times you have to lead your company through periods of major change. This can be unsettling and difficult for your staff.

So how do you guide your company through transition without causing a crisis in morale? 

1. Make sure staff are well informed

Effective communication is crucial. People need to know exactly what is changing and what will remain the same. Confusion and a lack of information is one of the main reasons staff may feel insecure and unhappy. Communicate things face to face, and make sure you explain the benefits of, and the need for, this change, particularly if it will affect the way your staff work, such as a brand new IT system. 

If you are clear, honest and transparent, your team will respect your leadership and staff morale will be kept up. If possible, involve them in planning and implementing the change so that they feel part of it rather than being swept up by it.

2. Give people time to let go

When an old way of doing things is ending, give your staff some time to adjust to the idea. People may need support in letting go of the old so they feel happy embracing the new work environment. Allow people to give their opinion and even ‘mourn’ the loss of whatever is changing, even if you feel they are being melodramatic. If you acknowledge their feelings and fears, it will be easier for you to address their concerns. Find a way of honouring the past and thank everyone for their contribution to get your business to this point.

3. Help employees through the period of transition

There will always be a neutral period when the new way of doing things is not yet fully operational. This is when you need to work hard to focus on staff wellbeing, encouraging your team and being prepared to answer lots of questions. Put temporary policies and procedures in place if necessary to keep everything running smoothly until the period of transition is complete.

If new skills and capabilities are needed, make sure you give the staff involved enough support and training. It also helps to set goals or ground rules. Staff need to know how you'll be judging the outcomes of the change, particularly if it relates to their performance.

4. Be consistent

When you introduce a new way of doing things, make sure all your policies and procedures are changed to reflect this. Give your staff clear guidance and goals to aim for and make sure there are no mixed messages. Most importantly, you need to lead from the front so your staff need to see you positively embracing and committing to the change. If they see you slipping back into old habits, the whole process will seem pointless to your team and they may question your motives for change in the first place.

5. Share ideas

Be flexible - there may well be ideas you have not considered and feedback from your team could improve processes, as well as being good for staff morale. For example, some of your employees may prefer to try out flexible working, instead of traditional office hours, during the period of transition. Embracing new ways of working could benefit both your staff and your company - flexible working has been shown to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

If you use any of the ideas suggested by your staff, make sure that you acknowledge this. This encourages further ideas and helps to develop a culture of change within your business, so employees become less resistant to future changes.